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Delaware North sues park service over Yosemite dispute

Delaware North accuses the National Park Service of breach of contract in a lawsuit filed last week in the U.S. Court of Claims, the latest fallout from the service’s decision this summer to award the lucrative Yosemite National Park concessions contract to another vendor.

The suit brought by the Buffalo-based hospitality and tourism giant argues the park service should have required Aramark, which won the new Yosemite contract, to purchase the names of park attractions and other intangible assets from Delaware North, as Delaware North was obligated to do when it took over park operations in 1993, according to a copy of the lawsuit obtained by The Buffalo News.

The contract to operate hotels, restaurants, stores and other services at Yosemite, located in central California, is the most valuable in the National Park Service and was put up for bid this year for the first time since 1992.

When Delaware North first won the contract, the company said it was required to buy the tangible and intangible assets of the previous operator, the Curry Company, for $61.5 million, or $115 million in today’s dollars. That included trademarked slogans such as “Go Climb a Rock” and intellectual property such as the names of the Ahwahnee Hotel, Curry Village and Badger Pass.

Delaware North’s original Yosemite contract also included an agreement that any company that succeeded Delaware North at the park would have to buy out all of its assets, according to the Buffalo-based concessionaire.

When the Park Service put the Yosemite contract out to bid, according to Delaware North, the bid document required the winning concessionaire to purchase at fair value “other property” used in connection with park operations.

The bid document specified furniture, equipment and vehicles, but did not mention intellectual property until Delaware North sought and received from the Park Service an amendment that addressed intangible assets.

On June 16, the Park Service, or NPS, announced it had awarded the concessions contract, worth up to $2 billion over 15 years, to Aramark. However, according to the lawsuit, Park Service officials ultimately did not require Aramark to purchase at fair value all of Delaware North’s tangible and intangible assets, a costly breach of the company’s contractual rights.

“We expected that the NPS would treat us fairly in this process, but instead it feels like we played by the NPS’ rules and the NPS unilaterally changed the game,” Delaware North said in a statement on the lawsuit.

Delaware North does not list a dollar amount for the damages it is seeking but states in the lawsuit that it asks for the amount to be determined at trial. Delaware North has previously placed a value of up to $51 million on its Yosemite intellectual property, but the company also has said that isn’t a final figure. Delaware North’s contract at Yosemite runs out on Feb. 29.

Lisa Cesaro, a Delaware North spokeswoman based at Yosemite, declined additional comment on the suit.

Scott Gediman, a Park Service spokesman based at Yosemite, said he couldn’t comment on the pending litigation. But, in previous interviews with The Buffalo News, Gediman has said the Park Service agrees the contract with Delaware North covers some intangible Yosemite assets.

The points of dispute are whether the names of the attractions belong to Delaware North and how much the trademarks and other assets are worth.

“They’re a part of the fabric of the park, and they’re a part of the cultural history of it,” Gediman said in January. “They belong to the American people.”